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Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

Similar to Parkinson's disease


Updated June 13, 2014

British actor, writer, and musician Dudley Moore died on March 27, 2002. The official cause of death was pneumonia, but in truth Moore had been battling progressive supranuclear palsy for many years (although he only publicly admitted to having the disease in September 1999).

What is it?
Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a degenerative brain disorder that gets worse over time. Its symptoms come from the gradual deterioration of brain cells in the part of the brain that controls vision and movement (brainstem). PSP is sometimes called Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, after the physicians who first identified it as being related to Parkinson's disease but a distinct disorder in itself. Its cause is unknown.

PSP is estimated to affect 1.4 people per 100,000 around the world. Men are affected slightly more than women, and symptoms typically begin between ages 50 and 60.

Symptoms often misdiagnosed
The most obvious and characteristic symptoms of PSP involve vision problems, such as double and blurred vision. This occurs because people with PSP are unable to aim their eyes properly. Other symptoms may include difficulty walking and keeping one's balance, slow movements, and falling down often give the appearance of alcohol abuse. Or the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease, an inner-ear problem, or stroke.

People with PSP may have trouble swallowing and speaking, may suffer memory loss and have difficulty thinking. There may be mood changes such as depression, and a progressive mild dementia. The symptoms increase over time.

Diagnosis is made on the symptoms, since there is as yet no test for the disorder.

There is no treatment for the disorder itself, so care is directed towards relieving its symptoms. Some patients may respond to the same drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease, such as levodopa. Some antidepressant medications, such as Prozac, Elavil, and Tofranil, seem to also help.

Besides medication, special glasses, walking devices, and other adaptive aids may help the person with PSP move around. If the person with PSP is unable to swallow, a feeding tube may be inserted into the stomach.

Serious complications of PSP come from head injury and fractures due to falls, and pneumonia due to problems swallowing and coughing. Good medical care and proper nutrition can help someone with PSP live many years, even decades after diagnosis.

Information for this article was taken from:
- National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Information Page.
- The Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. What is PSP?

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